Spectrum Health celebrates completing 100th heart and lung transplants

Posted at 3:51 PM, Jan 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-08 16:47:24-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Spectrum Health's Richard DeVos Health & Lung Transplant Program reached a significant milestone when their team completed the 100th heart and 100th lung transplants within days of one another in late December.

Elaine Slikkers of Holland was the 100th heart transplant patient in the program. She said the surgery gave her a second chance at life.

"It [heart beat] was just so irregular," said Slikkers. "Before my transplant, my life, my plans were day by day."

Just a few years ago is when Slikkers realized her heart was failing, being diagnosed with the inflammatory disease called Sarcoidosis.

“I ended up with a pacemaker thing," said Slikkers. "Christmas day of 2013, I had a cardiac arrest and I was back here again, with a new pacemaker with a defibrillator."

Slikkers said her only hope was to get a new heart, and to her surprise, it happened Dec. 27, 2017.

“I was just blown away because that’s the words you want to hear," said Slikkers. "It can just happen any time of the day.”

Dr. Marzia Leacche is one of the surgeons that performed Slikkers heart transplant and said she's proud of being part of a team helping so many people get back to their daily lives.

“She [Slikkers] couldn’t believe it," said Leacche. "That night it was around 10:30 p.m. when we told her we found a suitable donor and she just couldn’t believe it.”

The program was founded in 2010 and is the only program in the state to carry out combined heart and lung transplants in the past 18 years, completing one in 2013 and another in 2015.

Dr. Leacche said while all of the patients that have undergone surgery have a different story, there is something all of the patients have in common.

"Everyone has this incredible smile and look at you like you’ve given them the biggest gift ever," said Dr. Leacche.

Slikkers said she's recovering and feels great, physically and mentally, and can make plans for the future.

“Now we can actually get on a calender and put something down and not live life minute-to-minute," said Slikkers. "It’s a brand new start, to just feel good again,"

Spectrum Health representatives said while they're able to celebrate it's 100th heart and lung transplants, there is still over 100,000 people in need of organ transplants in the U.S.